Here's a surprise: As surveys of hundreds of the world's most innovative companies show, having more time, money or manpower isn't the secret to getting ahead in business or creating competitive advantage. Instead, as I reaffirmed while researching my recent book Lead with Your Heart, the world's most accomplished organizations strive to create leaders at every level, and constantly give people more opportunities to speak up, share their insights and experiment with creative new solutions.
In other words, they constantly try to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking in employees, listen more closely to customers and find better ways to tap into the power of their people.
But with employee incentivization every bit as important to driving growth and momentum as innovation, what's the best way to let colleagues know that their work is valued—and that they're No. 1 in your book? And, with so many great employee appreciation ideas and employee recognition ideas to potentially draw upon when doing so, how can you determine which will most resonate with your team?
Here are five ways you can get employees excited and engaged—and potentially transform every individual at your business into a change agent.
1. Create opportunities to contribute.
Sometimes, the simplest employee recognition ideas are the best. For example, when one global IT and big data leader has a big challenge, it regularly posts innovation contests on its website and invites workers worldwide to contribute great ideas, give feedback to their peers and vote which concepts should be turned into real-world solutions. Similarly, when one of the finance industry's largest global firms is looking to identify prospective candidates for promotion to leadership roles, it holds hackathon (freestyle design) events at which employees from every department are invited to work together to come up with working product prototypes in just 48 hours.
Most of tomorrow's workforce, regardless of age or background, won't measure success in terms of money, but rather their ability to accomplish goals and make a difference in their organization or community.
Still more companies hold regular breakfasts where senior leaders provide time to sit down and swap ideas with new hires; provide regular conferences, workshops and strategic retreats where colleagues spend time sharing ideas and learning from other; and purposefully put employees through a rotation of job roles to help them network and gain new insights and skills. All of these employee recognition ideas help reinforce an important point: Our company is listening to what you have to say and everyone's contributions matter. This kind of recognition can be even more powerful than financial incentives when it comes to promoting an organizational culture of greatness.
2. Offer unique upsides and benefits.
If you want to create more compelling job offers and attract and retain top performers by keeping your employees happier, it helps to analyze your ideal hires' needs and customize benefits to each prospective candidate. For example, one major quick-service restaurant chain provides health insurance for employees who work 25 or more hours weekly, to reward an older audience of part-time workers looking to supplement their retirement income. It also provides college tuition for many candidates, because an equally large segment of employees are college-bound individuals and twenty-somethings. Many leaders in other fields are also no longer demanding that employees be chained to a desk during daytime hours, instead shifting to operating models that emphasize teleworking opportunities and flexible schedules—to help attract workers and keep spirits high, especially among working parents.
3. Request regular creative input.
Crowdsourcing creative contributions from your employees (e.g. inviting them to submit ideas and input en masse) can also be a powerful way to reinforce your appreciation for their skills. Whether asking workers to send you their best designs for new logos, inviting them to film videos for possible consideration in online advertisements or requesting that they share their best stories for inclusion in ebooks, whitepapers and brochures, there are many engaging and dynamic ways to get your workforce involved. From photos to podcasts, slideshows to social posts, these types of user-generated content programs can provide ready opportunities to spotlight key contributors and put a more human face on your brand. Not only do these types of programs feel more authentic and genuine for the effort, they also provide added chances to shine the spotlight where it's rightfully deserved—on the everyday employees who make your business a great place to work.
4. Promote professional growth and development.
Ongoing learning and growth is the basic building block of a successful business—and a successful career. So make a specific point to also help employees pick up in-demand training, experience and skills wherever possible. It is often among the best employee appreciation ideas you can implement. Sometimes, this means setting budgets aside to invest in formal education, training or certification programs. But just as often, it can include simply providing workers with the access and time that they need to sit down with colleagues from different departments to discuss best practices, or to gain deeper insight into new areas of the business, new technologies and new growth markets.
If you're looking to start, remember: efforts here can be as simple as springing for a pizza night that brings the marketing and software development teams together to learn more about how each other works, and share ideas for improvement. The key is to actively connect workers with resources and opportunities that can help them learn, grow and expand their skill set—and become more valuable on the job.
5. Help colleagues shine.
Most of tomorrow's workforce, regardless of age or background, won't measure success in terms of money, but rather their ability to accomplish goals and make a difference in their organization or community. They'll want to work for innovative companies, and may also run their own forward-thinking entrepreneurial ventures at some point. If you're hoping to boost spirits, and employee engagement, it helps to remember that you can do so by providing clear goals, an engaging variety of assignments to tackle and cultivating a go-getting attitude in your organization.
Likewise, you'll want to provide more mentorship and ongoing feedback in the workplace, as well as more transparency, guidance and honest input about how the organization is evolving—and how they can personally contribute in ways that make a meaningful difference. Keep in mind, it's common these days for high-performing employees come and go, as they seek to expand their horizons and take on new challenges and roles. If they choose to move on, stay supportive. Not only will doing so reinforce to others that you truly care about them, these same individuals very well may rejoin your team down the road, more experienced and capable for having done so.
Photo: Getty Images